To achieve fluency, a student must read with appropriate rate, expression, and accuracy. All three components are required for fluency, but are they equally important? Jan Hasbrouck, Ph.D., is a reading researcher and Read Naturally supporter who has devoted her career to studying fluency. In this guest post, she discusses accuracy as the foundational component of fluency.

Dr. Hasbrouck’s thoughts and research are consistent with Read Naturally’s approach to building fluency. During the Pass step of the Read Naturally Strategy, students must read accurately, making no more than three errors. For students at various rates of fluency performance, three or fewer errors translates into:

98% accuracy at 150 WCPM (Words Correct Per Minute)
98% accuracy at 125 WCPM
97% accuracy at 100 WCPM
96% accuracy at 75 WCPM
95% accuracy at 50 WCPM*

By mandating these percentages in order for students to move through the program, the Read Naturally Strategy effectively trains students to become more accurate readers.

Here is what Dr. Hasbrouck has to say on the topic:

What is the FOUNDATION of reading fluency?

I have been thinking about reading fluency in one way or another since I became a reading teacher over 40 years ago. My first job after getting my degree was to serve as the Title I reading teacher for a rural district about 30 miles from my home. I worked with students from grades one to six who struggled with reading. A common characteristic of these students—whether they were attempting to identify letter sounds, read CVC words, or decode and understand text—was that they read slowly and laboriously. Reading was clearly hard for them, and plainly not motivating. These students had poorly developed fluency skills.

We've come to understand that achieving a certain level of fluency is necessary for both comprehension and motivation. The National Reading Panel Report (2000) pointed out that, “Despite its importance as a component of skilled reading, fluency is often neglected in the classroom.” Teachers everywhere heard that admonition, and fluency has now become a BIG focus in many classrooms. That’s the good news. Unfortunately, the bad news is that we are too often seeing a misunderstanding of what fluency really is. Too many educators seem to believe that a fluent reader is someone who can read FAST. They may have forgotten that the FOUNDATION of reading fluency is accuracy.

Of course rate has an important role in fluency, but rate must be layered on top of accuracy. I often remind teachers of the Five F’s of Fluency: FIRST, FOREMOST and FOREVER the FOUNDATION of FLUENCY is accuracy! Researchers have been helpful in providing us with guidelines for just how accurate a reader should be. In the chapter on fluency in the recent Handbook on Reading Research (2011), the authors suggest that we need to teach students to maintain at least 95% accuracy when they read independently, in order to sufficiently access the meaning of the text and enjoy the process of reading. This is the level of accuracy they suggest for established readers, say by the middle of 2nd grade or so. It may surprise you to learn that they suggest that our emerging readers in K and grade 1 should read text independently with no less than 98% accuracy.

Why the difference? It has a lot to do with motivation. We want our beginning readers to use the decoding skills we’ve taught them with confidence. We want them to read appropriate text (consisting of short sentences comprised of pre-taught sight words and CVC words and rebuses as necessary) accurately, because that builds their sense of accomplishment and motivation. (Please note that these figures are for independent reading. When students are receiving instruction, we must correct and provide appropriate feedback on every error, achieving 100% accuracy during guided practice so that they will be sufficiently accurate during independent practice.)

So, while we should continue to embrace the essential importance of fluency for successful reading, let’s be sure we don’t ever sacrifice accuracy for speed in the process!

* Note that 95% accuracy for beginning readers is adequate for Read Naturally students because Read Naturally programs target struggling readers. Accuracy expectations increase as our programs help these struggling readers become more fluent.